The Cost of Piety
July 03, 2008
In revisiting the recent saga involving the Muslim hairstylist, Bushra Noah, and her award of £4000 in damages for “injured feelings,” Mary Jackson touches on an important point.
[Salon owner, Sarah] Desrosiers railed against this injustice:
I’ve worked hard all my life - how can it be possible that someone can come into my shop, talk to me for ten minutes, and then sue me for £34,000? How is that possibly fair?
It isn’t fair. It isn’t fair because the balance of risk and reward has been cruelly inverted. Desrosiers risked, sacrificed, and lost. Noah risked nothing, sacrificed nothing, and won.
Desrosiers risked. She risked her savings and her security, and was punished for refusing to risk still more. Significantly, the employment tribunal overrode her judgment, concluding that “there was no specific evidence before us as to what would (for sure) have been the actual impact of the claimant working in her salon,” and that it “doubted whether the risk was as severe as the owner believed.” That is easy for them to say. They do not bear the risk. The only way to provide the required “specific evidence” would be for Desrosiers to employ Noah, lose business, and perhaps go bankrupt. The time spent preparing her defense cost Desrosiers an estimated £40,000 of the salon’s income and many sleepless nights. The case cost Noah, who, being unemployed, must have received legal aid from the British taxpayer, nothing at all. Desrosiers risked and Noah was rewarded.
And here’s the bigger issue:
Likewise, Desrosiers made sacrifices and was punished for not sacrificing still more - for someone else’s freely chosen religious convictions. Most religions require conservative dress, particularly of women. Conservative dress is not compatible with a “funky” workplace, but why should a devoutly religious woman mind? Forgoing the opportunity to work in an “urban and edgy” salon would seem a small price to pay for God’s approval. Wouldn’t God prefer Noah to work in a more traditional salon? And shouldn’t Noah accept this sacrifice as part of the deal?
Indeed. Isn’t the cost of piety meant to be borne exclusively by the pious? Isn’t that the whole point, such as it is? If a believer chooses to forgo certain pleasures and opportunities, isn’t that meant to be a metaphysical test of some kind – a matter of self-denial - one of supposedly cosmic importance? And isn’t demanding exemptions and compensation simply cheating to gain the approval of one’s hypothetical deity? If a person avoids certain foodstuffs or swimming with infidels because he believes avoiding those things will please God for some strange reason, then that’s a pretty mad formulation. But attempting to circumvent those self-imposed restrictions by imposing on others seems somewhat dubious even on its own, mad, terms. Or doesn’t God mind if someone else is forced to pick up the tab? And how convenient is that?
Broadly speaking, I don’t particularly care what metaphysical hang-ups a person has, provided those mental ticks are, as it were, kept off my lawn. If people wish to be a little bonkers and neurotic, that doesn’t usually trouble me. But expecting others to indulge those neuroses or defer to them - and then cheerily subsidise them too - is, well, pushing it a little. That isn’t piety or anything close to piety; that’s just parasitic arrogance.